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Undersea Cables Cut Again

No it’s not the poor lil sharks. At the outset of 2008, a badly dropped ship anchor had damaged an undersea Internet provisioning telecom cable in the Mediterranean, disrupting Internet service throughout India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the Middle East. And this year its deja-vu all over again. The lines, which emanate from the Egyptian coast at Alexandria and go on to connect to Asia, were probably damaged either by a ship’s anchor or a minor earthquake, officials say. So if your online gaming experience has not been up to the mark, lagging away to world’s end, then this is probably why.

Initial reports suggest as much as 70 per cent of internet and telephone traffic between the continents has been affected by the outage affecting millions across the Middle East and south Asia. International telephone calls, which have also been affected, were being re-routed to work around the problem. A somewhat corny outcome of the outage is that people have been getting less spam! Inboxes which were being bombarded with hundreds of spam mail a day now get only a few.

Despite widespread wireless internet and satellite connections, and contrary to popular belief, global communications still rely largely on the vast webs of fiber optic cables that cover the planet. The lines take years of planning to install. To repair them is even more of a challenge. As part of damage control for this recent incident, a 64-crew French maintenance boat arrived on site, off the coast of Sicily, following a two-day journey from southern France. An underwater robot was sent down to locate the cables, which may have been dragged several kilometers off site in the incident — and lift them to the surface where they will be repaired fiber by fiber.

Some trivia:
  1. The crack about sharks at the beginning wasn’t entirely unfounded. It seems that the very first small diameter fiber optic cables laid were indeed damaged by sharks chewing on them on the ocean floor. Scientists found that sharks were attracted by the magnetic fields formed around the cable, produced by the electrical current supplying power to the amplifiers which are placed periodically. To reduce these problems, the cables are buried in the floor of the ocean using special under sea ploughs. However, in rocky bottoms and over undersea cliffs, the cables are still exposed.
  2. Cables with 10 Gbps bandwidth were laid at a cost of $27,000 per km in 1999. Do the math.